Bentley’s course to victory unusual
One of the amazing stories that emerged from our gubernatorial primaries was the dissolution of the political adage that money talks in politics. Most pundits pegged Bradley Byrne to be the odds on favorite to win the GOP nomination because he had the big business special interest money solidly behind him. During the course of the primary and runoff his campaign raised and spent $6.9 million. In comparison, Dr. Robert Bentley spent $1.8 million. This is an amazing almost 4 to 1 disparity. That, my friends, is unheard of in Alabama or anywhere else.
The second anomaly in the GOP contest was the fact that Bentley won without using negative ads. This is highly unusual in today’s political world. Voters continually lament the caustic and mean spirited virulence displayed in political attack ads. However, the sad truth is that they are used because they work. In this case, they did not.
Byrnes’ campaign had no choice but to try to attack the doctor. However, Bentley’s grandfatherly and sincere response deflected the darts and arrows. His countenance evokes a trustworthiness that is only found in a revered country doctor. The attack ads did not stick to him. He truly has a teflon political coating. Sparks campaign should take note of this trait. Bentley will more than likely continue to adhere to his positive approach. We may see a refreshingly positive and issue driven campaign this fall.
Even though Bentley refused to go negative that does not mean that he did not receive some peripheral third party help. The prodigious attack on Bradley Byrne by Dr. Paul Hubbert and AEA was the reason Byrne was not elected. The ads were brilliantly scripted. They branded Byrne as the liberal in the GOP family brawl. It was hard for Byrne to shake the label.
The inferences actually had some credence to them. Hubbert’s True Republican conduit PAC ads highlighted four accusations, one of which was that Byrne voted for tax increases. In essence, he and most other Republican legislators supported Bob Riley’s massive tax increase initiative put on the ballot early in Riley’s first term. Secondly, having once been a Democrat, Byrne probably did contribute to Bill Clinton’s campaign. Being a lawyer, there is a good possibility that he has probably sued someone on behalf of one of his clients. However, the most damaging segment was when the ad said that Byrne did not believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. As a member of the State School Board he may very well have cast a vote to allow the teaching of evolution. This issue was highlighted and stressed in the television ad and was also played prominently on rural radio stations. This subliminal, Machiavellian move was brilliant.
Hubbert’s strategists knew that Roy Moore probably would not make the runoff and that his 20 percent of the Republican electorate had to go somewhere. Hubbert wanted to make sure that they did not go to Byrne. Indeed they did not. Dr. Bentley garnered even more of the Roy Moore voters in the runoff than he did Tim James’. He got the lion’s share of these two men’s supporters in his landslide win over Byrne.
These Moore supporters probably found a kindred spirit in Bentley, who has served as a deacon of the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa for over 30 years. He has even been chairman of the board on four different occasions. He has also taught a young couples Sunday school class for 20 years, which he refused to stop teaching during the entire campaign. He would worship and teach Sunday school at his church and refused to campaign on Sundays. He did this quietly and without fanfare and disdained any exploitation of his Christian devotion for political gain.
Undoubtedly, the folks in Tuscaloosa know and respect Dr. Bentley. He received an amazing 88 percent of the vote in Tuscaloosa County in the runoff. This display of friends and neighbors regional support was also depicted in Ron Sparks Democratic victory over Artur Davis. Sparks captured a similar 87 percent in his home county of DeKalb as well as every county surrounding his northwest Alabama bailiwick.
Speaking of regionalism and home counties, if Bentley goes on to win the governorship we will have a unique distinction of both the Governor and our senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby being from Tuscaloosa. However, the comparison stops there. Bentley is the worst fundraiser I have ever seen. He spent $1.8 million, almost 90 percent of which was his own money. In contrast, Richard Shelby is the most renowned and accomplished fundraiser in Alabama political history. Bentley needs to spend a few weeks at the Shelby school of fundraising.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.